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Volume 21, Number 11—November 2015
Etymologia

Etymologia: Ebola

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Ebola [ebʹo-lə]

Figure 1

Thumbnail of Taken by Frederick Murphy at CDC, this iconic transmission electron micrograph shows the filamentous shape of the Ebola virus. On October 13, 1976, Murphy captured this image and, along with Karl Johnson and Patricia Webb, carried the printed negative, dripping wet, directly to CDC Director David Sencer. At the time, they were among the only persons in the world to have seen this “dark beauty” (F.A. Murphy, pers. comm.).

Figure 1. Taken by Frederick Murphy at CDC, this iconic transmission electron micrograph shows the filamentous shape of the Ebola virus. On October 13, 1976, Murphy captured this image and, along with Karl...

Figure 2

Thumbnail of Ebola River, ca. 1932. Photo courtesy Pierre Rollin.

Figure 2. Ebola River, ca. 1932. Photo courtesy Pierre Rollin.

Ebola virus, discovered in 1976 during an outbreak in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo), was first isolated from Myriam Louise Ecran, a 42-year-old Belgian nursing sister working at the Yambuku Mission Hospital who died caring for people with this unknown disease. When the international commission considered the name “Yambuku virus,” Karl Johnson and Joel Breman noted that naming the Lassa virus after the Nigerian village where it was discovered brought stigma to the community. Johnson suggested naming the virus after a nearby river, and the rest of the commission agreed (Figure 1).. The Belgian name for the river, l’Ebola, is actually a corruption of the indigenous Ngbandi name Legbala, meaning “white water” or “pure water” (J.G. Breman, L.E. Chapman, F.A. Murphy, P.E. Rollin, pers. comm.) (Figure 2).

The Ebola virus, originally described as “Marburg like,” was determined to be a related filovirus (from the Latin filum, “thread”), named for the elongated, flexible shape. The virus was first described in 3 back-to-back articles in The Lancet in 1977.

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References

  1. Bowen  ET, Lloyd  G, Harris  WJ, Platt  GS, Baskerville  A, Vella  EE. Viral haemorrhagic fever in southern Sudan and northern Zaire. Preliminary studies on the aetiological agent. Lancet. 1977;1:5713 and. DOIPubMed
  2. DelViscio  J. A witness to Ebola’s discovery. The New York Times. 2014 Aug 9 [cited 2015 Aug 4]. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/08/science/a-witness-to-ebolas-discovery.html.
  3. Johnson  KM, Lange  JV, Webb  PA, Murphy  FA. Isolation and partial characterization of a new virus causing acute haemorrhagic fever in Zaire. Lancet. 1977;1:56971 and. DOIPubMed
  4. Pattyn  S, Jacob  W, van der Groen  G, Piot  P, Courteille  G. Isolation of Marburg-like virus from a case of haemorrhagic fever in Zaire. Lancet. 1977;1:5734 and. DOIPubMed
  5. Tanghe  B, Vangele  A. The high Ebola region. Historical notes (1890–1900) [in French]. Aequatoria. 1939;2:615.
  6. Wordsworth  D. How Ebola got its name. The Spectator. 2014 Oct 25 [cited 2015 Aug 4]. http://www.spectator.co.uk/life/mind-your-language/9349662/how-ebola-got-its-name/

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Cite This Article

DOI: 10.3201/eid2111.et2111

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Table of Contents – Volume 21, Number 11—November 2015

Page created: October 16, 2015
Page updated: October 16, 2015
Page reviewed: October 16, 2015
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